Historic Photos of the DSU Campus

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Historic Campus Photos Historic Campus Photos

These photos are believed to be the only known photos of the first building at Normal School. They were donated recently to the DSU archives and were labeled Madison, SD. We assume the first is taken while the fire is burning that night and the second appears to be at daybreak. Read the newspaper article below for a recount of events.

Destroyed By Fire Taken from the Lake County Leader, February 11, 1886

Headlines Read:

The State Normal School at Madison Destroyed by Fire Thursday Eve, February 4,

The Building and Contents a Total Loss, Which is estimated at $25,000 to $30,000

The Firemen and Citizens Make a Gallant Effort, but After a Sturdy Fight, Are Compelled to Give Up the Building Which Had Been Occupied Only Two Months.

The Board Meet and Provide for the School, Which Continues Its Work While the Fire Burns.

About eight o’clock Thursday evening an alarm of fire was sounded and it was soon known throughout the business portion of the city that the Normal, located at the northern outskirts of the town, was on fire. The Normal had been occupied only about two months, and in this institution is centered the pride of our citizens. The night was bitter cold, but everyone who heard the alarm hastened to lend the assistance, which would surely be needed to fight fire in the face of such a wind as, was blowing at the time. The cry was taken up along the streets, the firemen hastened to their posts, and the department was on its way to the conflagration in less time than it takes to tell it. The city has no team, and a messenger was dispatched to the livery barn of Scott & Sheridan for a team to haul the engine; but the fire ladies and their ready assistants, the citizens, were too quick for the horses, and had the engine at the scene of the fire before the team caught up to them, at the fire, and the fight between man and the elements commenced in dead earnest. The firemen forced their way to the basement, where the fire was located in the practical chemistry room, situated on the west side of the building. Urged on by the knowledge that they were struggling for the rescue of property in which were stored the interests not alone of individuals, but the interest of the entire community, all worked with an energy limited only by their physical powers. Everywhere willing hands were lent when assistance was needed. A bucket brigade was quickly formed, and the citizens vied with the firemen in their efforts to subdue the flames. Something must show for such sturdy work, and finally it was evident that the firemen were gaining an advantage, and it looked as though man was to be the master. The good work was kept up, and soon the tidings went out that the fire was under control. But the victory was not to be lasting, for while the efforts of all had been directed to one locality, the flames had made their way between the partitions and appeared in other places. The men were called to the boiler room, where the need seemed most urgent. But the chemicals in the engine were now exhausted, and the firemen were obliged to return to recharge their engine. It was during this time that the fire gained the mastery. It made rapid headway, and by the time the engine was again ready for use had made its appearance in the large classroom in the southwest corner of the building on the ground floor. The flames had gained an advantage which could not be overcome, the fire was making its appearance all through the basement and ground floor, the windows and doors being all open by this time, affording a draft which fanned the fire to proportions which would have defied the efforts of the best fire company in the world, and nothing could be done except to retire and succumb to the inevitable. Everybody had been so zealous in his efforts to save the building that no attention had been paid to the property inside, and nothing was saved except about 80 books from the school library, which contained 1,000 volumes, and the books and part of the furniture in the model school.

There was no insurance on the building, and with the exception of the few books saved from the library and the furniture and books from the model department, the building and its contents were an entire loss. The exact figures cannot be had, but the loss will range from $25,000 to $30,000.

Nearly all of the students lost part of their books, and a good many nearly all of them. These, however, will be replaced by the board of education.

For a time it looked as though the dormitory, which is situated about 300 feet west of the Normal building, and is only partially completed, would take fire, as it was bound to do if the wind changed from the south to the east. But it was not willed that the fire should rob us of everything, and the dormitory was spared.


There is a good deal of speculation, of course, as to the beginning of the fire. The building was heated throughout by steam and was considered practically free from danger of fire. H. Playford, the janitor, states that the first he noticed of the fire was in the boiler room, where he discovered a blaze about the size of a quarter a dollar in the southwest corner of the room, in the partition between the boiler room and the practical chemistry room, as shown by the following diagram, (diagram) the fire being near the ceiling, at a point where a return-pipe passed through the ceiling of the boiler-room, at the side of the chimney. Mr. Playford went up to the first floor and discovered fire in the wainscoting of the northwest corner of the preparatory room in the southwest corner of the building, near the chimney, directly over the practical chemistry room. The fire, he says, had covered a space about as big as a half bushel at that time, and was six or eight feet from the chimney. He went to the boiler room, got a pail of water and put out the fire there. From there he went to the room directly north and immediately over the boiler room. Here he found a blaze near the chimney, and went down and got water and put it out. As he was going back he stepped into the preparatory room and found the fire had started again. He saw that he could not handle the fire and at once gave the alarm, falling from exhaustion when he had reached the residence of C. B. Kennedy, the alarm being carried on down town by John L. Jones. Mr. Playford states that he stopped near the residence of J.D. Andrews, and that the fire then appeared to be in the basement. It is his opinion that the fire started from a crack in the chimney, caused by the settling of the chimney when the excavation was made for the boiler, the chimney having been built first, and in all probability it first started in the floor and partitions and first made its appearance on the ground floor.

While the building was still burning, the board of education met at the office of the First National Bank, and school was opened the next morning in the opera house, where the board and faculty addressed the students. The school is now being held in various parts of the city, the model school being at the Methodist church, the preparatory at the Baptist church, and the balance of the school at the court house, where they will remain for the present. The building will be replaced as speedily as possible, notices of special election having been posted to vote on the question of bonding the city in the sum of $25,000 until the meeting of the next legislature.


  • Prof. Richardson lost about $150 worth of books in the fire.
  • Prof. Curtiss found what was left of his music rack Sunday.
  • Parties visited the scene of the fire from nearly all the surrounding town and country, Friday and Saturday.
  • The pupils of the normal who lost their books in the fire will have them replaced by the board of education.
  • About a dozen brick were left standing at the southeast corner of the building, a monument to the solidity of the structure.
  • The board furnished the students with printed postal’s, announcing the fire, to send to their friends throughout the country.
  • (Next paragraph unreadable)
  • It is reported that one of our most prominent citizens became so excited that he coupled the two ends of the extra hose together.
  • The ruins swarmed with a crowd of people the day following the fire, all anxious to carry off something in remembrance of the catastrophe.
  • Fire Marshal Patterson carries a little extra color around one of his eyes and a little extra court plaster on his nose because a ladder fell and struck him in the face.
  • The students caught the ardor of the board and facility, and went to work the next morning with an energy that showed they have an eye to the interest of the school.
  • A few of the students did not know the Normal had burned, and the next morning made the discovery by going to the burned building to pursue their studies for the day.
  • J.E. Patten’s hat was blown into the burning building. Patten followed it until he got to a place where the floor had fallen in, and then he concluded he needed a new hat, anyhow.
  • A good many of our citizens heard the church bell when it was rung to sound the alarm, but did not venture out in the cold, thinking it was intended for a church call. What we need and need badly is a good fire alarm, and wants to be sounded so it will make things jingle.
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